SC says real concern is fair trial in Kathua case, agrees to hear petition for CBI probe

 

New Delhi, Apr 26 (PTI) The Supreme Court today agreed to consider a plea of two accused in the gangrape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua that the trial in the case be held in Jammu and the probe handed over to the CBI. The court also said its “real concern” was to see that a fair trial was conducted in the Kathua case after the Bar Council of India said the lawyers’ body in the district had neither obstructed the Crime Branch from filing the charge sheet nor the advocate representing the victim’s family.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud considered the plea of the accused, Sanji Ram and Vishal Jangotra, that they be impleaded as parties to the petition filed by the victim’s father.

The eight-year-old’s father had moved the apex court earlier, apprehending a threat to the family, a friend and their lawyer Deepika Singh Rajawat.

Expressing satisfaction with the probe conducted by the Jammu and Kashmir police in the case, the father had also sought transfer of the trial from Kathua court to Chandigarh.

However, the accused are asking for the opposite, seeking a CBI probe and a trial in Kathua district itself.

The child from a minority nomadic community had disappeared from near her home in a village near Kathua in Jammu region on January 10. Her body was found in the same area a week later.

The state police’s Crime Branch, which probed the case, filed the main chargesheet against seven persons and a separate charge sheet against a juvenile in a court in Kathua district last week. The chargesheet revealed chilling details about how the girl was allegedly kidnapped, drugged and raped inside a place of worship before being killed.

The Supreme Court today said its “real concern” was to see that a fair trial was conducted in the Kathua case after the Bar Council of India said the lawyers’ body in the district had neither obstructed the Crime Branch from filing the charge sheet nor the advocate representing the victim’s family.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said that if it finds the slightest possibility of lack of fair trial, it will transfer the case out of Kathua.

The bench, also comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, said the trial should be fair not only for the accused but also for the victim’s family and the protection to them and their lawyers should be ensured.

The bench also considered the issue of alleged obstruction by lawyers in administration of justice in the case and said,” if the lawyers are at fault, they would be dealt in accordance with law”.

During the hearing, the apex court said the real issue in the matter was to have a fair trial in the case.

The matter will be next heard on July 30.

At the outset, the Bar Council of India (BCI), filed in a sealed cover, its enquiry report related to the alleged obstruction by lawyers in the case at Kathua.

The BCI report has said that lawyers’ body had neither obstructed the Crime Branch of Jammu and Kashmir police from filing the charge sheet in the court concerned nor the lawyers had obstructed advocate Deepika Singh Rajawat, who is representing the victim’s family, from appearing in the matter before the high court there.

The report also said that the demand of J&K High Court Bar Association, Jammu and Kathua District Bar Association for a CBI probe in the matter appears to be justified.

Meanwhile, Advocate Shoeb Alam, appearing for the state, opposed the BCI’s report and maintained that the police team was heckled allegedly by lawyers due to which they could not file the charge sheet in the trial court.

Alam told the bench that the report of BCI cannot be relied upon since no Crime branch officers, who were allegedly obstructed by agitating lawyers at Kathua, were heard.

He pointed out to the report of the high court and drew the attention to a separate report of a District Judge at Kathua and claimed that the report gives scathing finding of the “obstruction” of officers and justice administration system.

He pleaded the two petitions related to the alleged misconduct of lawyers and prayer of the father of victim seeking transfer of the case to Chandigarh be kept separate to ensure that the matter is not sensationalised.

However, the bench observed,”let the main issue be not missed. Fair investigation, fair trial, appropriate legal guidance and representation of both the accused and the victim’s family has to be there.”

“Instead of getting into what the BCI report says and the lawyers say, let us not digress from the real issue. The real issue is that how can we achieve justice,” the bench said.

Senior advocate Indira Jaisingh, appearing for the victim’s father, told the bench that the case and its trial should be monitored by the apex court.

The bench, however, said that fast tracking the trial doesn’t mean that proper opportunity was not granted in accordance with the procedure to the accused as well as the victim’s family.

The child from a minority nomadic community had disappeared from near her home in a village near Kathua in Jammu region on January 10. Her body was found in the same area a week later.

The state police’s Crime Branch, which probed the case, filed the main charge sheet against seven persons and a separate charge sheet against a juvenile in a court in Kathua district last week. The charge sheet revealed chilling details about how the girl was allegedly kidnapped, drugged and raped inside a place of worship before being killed.

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